America has a thing for schlubby male comedians ‘ it’s how we like them served up. They are our everymen, creaking under the weight of kids, wives, obligations, and using observational humor of the mundane details of life as an escape valve. There’s a thread that runs from Jackie Gleason to our current heroes: Louis C.K., Marc Maron, and now ‘ pulling into town tonight for a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl ‘ Jim Gaffigan. He arrives just after the premiere of “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” a single-camera sitcom that features Mr. Gaffigan playing himself. And it’s on the TV Land channel, the go-to nostalgia station where one can check in the domesticated males of old. This is the year of Jim.
Mr. Gaffigan’s career started as a friendly bet to take a stand-up seminar, one that ended with a small set in front of a crowd. His friend dropped out, but Mr. Gaffigan, who had moved to New York City from a small town in Indiana, suddenly found his calling. He kept his day job in advertising and worked open mic nights, honing his material.
At the same time, another friendly piece of advice got him acting in commercials, which soon numbered around 100 by the late ’90s, which then led to appearances in shows like “Law & Order” and “Sex and the City” and bit parts in films like “Three Kings” and “Super Troopers” (the famous “meow” scene). Then, his big break: in 1999 he appeared on David Letterman and after the set was offered development his own TV show by the executive producer. The ensuing sitcom, “Welcome to New York” didn’t make it to the end of its first season.
“As an actor, you know you’re never going to have the same job forever,” he said in a 2005 interview. “Would I love to have a show on the air and be making a million an episode? Yeah. But I felt like I was just lucky to be there.”
He’d have to wait 10 years for a second chance at sitcom stardom, and in those intervening years he’s appeared on, or written material for, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Ellen Degeneres and others. He even did a stint on Broadway, starring in “That Championship Season” alongside Brian Cox, Keifer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Chris Noth.
Meanwhile his standup was spreading out through the Internet. Always a clean comic, and one who loves to talk about food and America’s eating habits, his “Hot Pockets” routine from 2006’s “Beyond the Pale” tour and DVD popped up in people’s emails and social media ‘ and still does. It became so popular that according to foodie website GrubStreet.com, Mr. Gaffigan’s derision for the microwavable junk food may have directly affected Nestlé’s food sales, and no amount of Kate Upton appearing with a Hot Pockets mascot can bring them back.
Eating and loving it has been a constant theme even into his memoir, 2013’s “Dad Is Fat” (based on the first complete sentence his young son wrote). His latest book, “Food: A Love Story,” is filled with observations like “choking on bacon is like getting murdered by your lover.” The beauty of his routine is that it ensnares everybody who has cheated on a diet or pretended they didn’t just stop at a fast-food drive-through.
With “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” he looks to finally have found a show suiting his talents. Ashley Williams plays his wife, Michael Ian Black plays his agent, Tongayi Chirisa plays his priest, and Adam Goldberg plays his single, childless friend who ribs Jim about the chaos of looking after five kids in a small Manhattan apartment.
The show stands a much better chance because this time it is very autobiographical, being created with his wife Jeannie, who Jim started dating around the time of his first sitcom. (She helped as an acting coach.) Ninety percent is shot on location around New York City and their apartment set is a direct copy of the last place they lived before a recent move. It might sound a bit like FX’s “Louie” show starring Louis C.K., and Mr. Gaffigan pre-empts those comparisons.
“With Louie, it’s like you’re in an independent film,” Mr. Gaffigan said in an interview. “But Jeannie and I are just trying to make a show we’re happy to watch.”
When: 7 p.m. tonight
Where: Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N Milpas St.
Information: 962-7411, www.sbbowl.com